The trend has become clear: there is a growing number of books sold in our country. This emerged from the latest report that AIE (Italian Publishers Association) report in October at the Frankfurt Book Fair. In terms of reading, Italy is rising from the lowest-ranking country to the leading country in Europe.
Reading: from pastime to cultural industry
Impressive data: Turnover of three billion. Publishing thus solidifies itself as the Italy’s leading cultural industry, together with pay TV, and becomes the third largest European publishing industry behind only Germany (9.3 billion) and the United Kingdom (7.5 billion).
The substantial stability of the market (€3,056 million, +0.1% compared to 2019) is the result of the positive performance of the “miscellaneous” section (novels and essays sold in physical and online bookshops and in large-scale retail outlets), which recorded a 0.3% increase in sales at the end of the year.
Schoolbooks, however, fell by 3.5% (742 million). A hefty boost for digital: ebooks, audiobooks and databases climbed 10.9% to €430.2 million. The report also notes that 73,675 new publications were printed during the year, down 5.9%. At the same time, however, e-books grew by 7.2% to 52,273.
Reading through the pandemic
These figures appear in the report Dall’emergenza a un piano per la ripartenza. Libro bianco sulla lettura e i consumi culturali in Italia (2020-2021) (From Emergency to Recovery Plan. White Paper on reading and cultural consumption in Italy [2020-2021]), edited by the Centro per il libro e la lettura (Centre for Books and Reading) in collaboration with the Ufficio Studi dell’Associazione Italiana Editori (Italian Publishers Association Studies Office) and the Istituto Poligrafico e Zecca dello Stato (State Mint and Polygraphic Institute).
The figures, however, are also affected by the ‘submerged’ phenomenon, i.e. the revenue lost due to digital and physical piracy. A ‘conservative’ estimate by IPSOS puts loss value revenue at €528 million in 2019 (research on 2020 is still ongoing) and roughly 36 million copies, including printed books, ebooks and audiobook downloads. Sixty-one percent of these revenue losses were in the miscellaneous sector, twenty percent in the university sector and nineteen percent in the professional sector.
Fewer new features, but more digital
If we focus our attention on the miscellaneous, we see that 2020 has left Italian publishers with two main trends, net of a demand that remains very strong and, indeed, is increasing. The first is digital growth.
This growth mirrors a shift in the balance between sales channels, with online shelves rising from 33.2% of the market to 46.2% in two years (from 2019 to 2021). A boom in online bookshops has also led to a wider range of available titles: The catalogue is growing and is increasingly valued, with fewer best sellers. And this is the second marked trend in the new scenario.
Fewer novelties in print, more digital books, an increasingly expanding catalogue: While Italian book production in 2020 has radically changed in response to the exceptional nature of the first year of the pandemic, the trends we had already seen at play in previous years are nevertheless accelerating.
More books for less money
Another consolidating trend is the drop in the cover price. The average price of books calculated at production (not weighted on print run) was €19.813 in 2020 (-0.6% versus 2019) and even €1.79 lower than in 2010.
The growth of online publishing, on the other hand, is enhancing this long tail, one that keeps 1.26 million titles commercially alive, i.e. available, up 4.5% and not including self-published titles. There were 716 thousand titles in 2010. The ebook tally is now at 500 thousand, a far cry from the 17 thousand in 2010.
Admittedly, fewer books have been published in the last couple of years than in previous years, but the supply is always greater because fewer books are going out of print. New titles accounted for over 65% of production throughout the 1910s, with peaks as high as 70% in some years. The figure for this concept in 2019, the most recent year available, dropped to 61.4% in favour of reprints and new editions, i.e. promoting a recast of ‘catalogue’ publications. This catalogue has grown by 45.9% over the last four years (+29.8% for new products).